February 15, 2023

O’Leary: Fajardo embraces new opportunity with Als

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

As Cody Fajardo’s voice rode over the Regina airwaves on Tuesday, it was hard not to wonder if what he was saying would echo through the 2023 season.

You can find a moment like this in just about every free agency period. A player that was the face of the club and a part of the city leaves for a new one and begins a new chapter in their career. Fajardo told CJME’s Jamie Nye that there were no hard feelings and that a fresh start was best for both him and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

He said that the writing had been on the wall for about five weeks leading into his late-season benching last season. He stood on the sidelines as the Riders fell to the Calgary Stampeders, ensuring that they’d miss the 2022 playoffs.

“It didn’t end the way you wanted it to,” Fajardo told the radio station. “It’s unfortunate…but I think a fresh start will do a lot of justice for both teams.”

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After Fajardo and Trevor Harris swapped teams in free agency — a move that the affable 30-year-old lamented not being an actual trade — things could work out for each side. While Harris’ departure from the Als appears to be more a business move, Fajardo’s was out of circumstance. As he said, the writing on the wall grew clearer each week as the Riders’ disappointing season unfolded and he knew his tenure as the team’s starting quarterback was coming to an end.

If something like that doesn’t light a fire in you, there isn’t a fire to be lit. Fajardo said all of the right things on the Regina airwaves on Tuesday, thanking the fans for their support and showing appreciation for his time in such a unique market in this league. But there’s a hint of that freshly-stoked fire burning inside of him, too.

“A lot of people will think it’s a rebuild in Montreal and absolutely it’s not. We’re excited. I’m excited. I think what Danny Mac (Als’ GM Danny Maciocia) is doing over there is incredible,” Fajardo said.

“I’m just excited to hit the ground running and prove to all people who have been a little bit harder on me over the last couple of years that I’ve still got a lot left in the tank and I can still be one of the elite quarterbacks in this league.”

Fajardo dispelled the notion of he and Als’ head coach Jason Maas not getting along. Having worked together for the last two seasons when Maas was the Riders’ offensive coordinator, Fajardo knows his “new” head coach well and understands him.

Fajardo takes two years of experience in Saskatchewan working with Jason Maas into Montreal, where his former OC is now the head coach (The Canadian Press)

“We’re both fiery competitors,” Fajardo said.

“We have an outstanding relationship and outstanding working relationship. We respect each other and we know how to get the best out of each other.

“When he got the head coaching job in Montreal, that team jumped up to the top of my list in free agency, obviously depending on what happened with Trevor Harris. Once the news came out that he was going to leave, Maas called me right away and let me know that he was interested in me coming in.

“You always want to be wanted. It’s nice to be liked but to be wanted is a little bit of a different thing. I truly feel that with coach Maas as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.”

The pieces are still coming together in Montreal, with the team officially adding receiver Greg Ellingson on Wednesday morning. As the off-season progresses, Fajardo is only getting more excited about what’s in front of him.

“I’m extremely excited. What’s nice is hitting training camp knowing the offence that you’re going to be in, it’s not like I have to start from scratch,” Fajardo said.

“Sometimes when you have that you can see things from a different viewpoint. You can pick up where you left off, then you can honestly start fine tuning some things because you’re not so much worried about just getting the playbook down. You can focus more on mechanical stuff. You can focus more on outside learning factors and just becoming a better football player.

“We signed Greg Ellingson, who’s a veteran CFL All-Star in this league, a guy who’s going to bring a lot of tenacity and a lot of positivity to this team and we have two Canadian studs that coach Maas told me about (Tyson Philpot and Kaion Julien-Grant) that I’m really excited to work with.”

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